The Penguin Classics redesign by Jan Tschichold 1949

The Penguin Classics: 1945 & 1949

25/10/10 – Two early examples of titles from the Penguin Classics series: (left) John Overton’s original design of 1945 and (right) Jan Tschichold’s reformed design of 1949. Both feature circular illustrations (roundels) by William Grimmond.

The Penguin Classics 1945

John Overton’s original design featured Eric Gill’s Perpetua typeface, roundel by William Grimmond, centered layout and decorative border. The reddish-brown background colour indicates Greek literature.

Only seven titles appeared in the series before Tschichold’s redesign.

The Penguin Classics 1949

Jan Tschichold’s redesign made the design less clumsy, more clear and elegant. He retained the centred layout with Perpetua, roundel and decorative border, but unified the colour of roundel and frame thereby reducing the number of inks from three to two. He also increased the type panel to include the roundel, added a swelled rule to separate author and imprint, and redrew the patterned border.

Tshichold’s design remained in use until 1963.

Sources and related information
For more on the design and history of Penguin Books, see Penguin by design: A cover story 1935-2005 and Seven hundred penguins in the bibliography.

Penguin covers on Flickr//

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Oliver Tomas

  • Design historian and archivist based in Vancouver, Canada.
  • info[at]olivertomas[dot]com